Posted in picture books

Barn at Night: The best things happen before the sun comes up

Barn at Night, by Michelle Houts/Illustrated by Jen Betton, (Sept. 2021, Feeding Minds Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781948898058

Ages 5-7

This rhyming tale is all about the bustling life on a farm as a child and her father get up before dawn to tend to the animals. By the time the girl and her father enter the barn, the animals are already awake and waiting for them, complaining about the cold air they’ve let in, getting underfoot and gently demanding to be fed. The family moves on to the rest of their day, but will come back to tend the animals once again later on: “When darkness falls / and animals call / we’ll go out and feed them again”. One night, the girl wakes up to spy her father heading to the barn to greet a new life as a foal makes his debut. It’s a quiet, lovely tribute to the hustle and bustle of farm life and caring for the animals within. Endpapers show the farm at night and in the pre-dawn hours as the sky gets lighter. The paintings make every spread warm, inviting the reader to feel the enveloping safety of the barn and the animals. Readers will love seeing the familiar animals – ask about colors, animal sounds, and baby names like foal, chicks, and kittens – and will learn more about what each animal eats and how they sleep. They’ll learn about some of the jobs on a farm, like the need to get up early and feed the animals. Michelle Houts’s engaging rhyme makes for great read-alouds and her comfort with nature writing just comes across so easily. A wonderful addition to your Farm and Animal Storytimes.

Feeding Minds Press publishes books that seek to educate readers about agriculture: where our food comes from, and who grows and cares for it. The Press is a project of the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, and their website offers more information about their mission and their books (including the Little Ag series, which I’ll be writing about soon!). The Barn at Night book page features free coloring pictures to download, too.

Posted in Uncategorized

Two picture books about summer… and life

Waiting for Chicken Smith, by David Mackintosh, (May 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536207712

Ages 4-8

A young boy waits for his friend to show up at the family’s summer rental in this story about summer, relationships, and change. The boy, a child of color, narrates the story as he waits for Chicken Smith to show up. The boy talks about Chicken Smith, his dog, Jelly, and the fun summers the two friends have had in the past as he waits, holding a “crazy shell from the gas-station shop” as a gift. Where the heck is his friend? Readers know; in the beautifully detailed pages, we see an empty cabin with a “Summer Rental” sign. The boy’s sister finally manages to get his attention, and the two glimpse a whale: something he and Chicken Smith have never been able to catch together, not even with binoculars. The boy and his sister head back to the cabin and enjoy their evening together, and he wonders if he’ll see Chicken Smith next year.

Originally published in the U.K., Chicken Smith is a story about change and summer friendships. Readers feel the boy’s longing as he waits for his friend; it’s in his voice as he recalls summers past, the cool shell he found for him, and the fact that he’s so focused on waiting for Chicken Smith that he ignores just about everything going on around him. His sister is finally able to get through to him through sheer persistence, and that’s when the Chicken Smith spell is broken: there’s a whale to watch. The story is almost achingly sad at points; when the boy askis, “What is taking Chicken Smith so long, anyway? We’re missing out on everything”, we just know he won’t be there this year – and sure enough, the next page shows an empty cabin, and the boy describes the windows being shut and seeing a cobweb with a fly in it. David Mackintosh pulls readers and the narrator back from the brink by giving us a new relationship to discover: the relationship between the boy and his sister, brought together by the whale. The two go back to their cabin and look at his whale book, then make plans to go on a shell hunt. The boy ends on an optimistic tone, hoping he’ll see Chicken Smith next year, but deciding to enjoy his sister’s company for this year. The pen, pencil, ink, watercolor, and kraft paper artwork come together to create a child’s scrapbook-like feel for summer memories.

Waiting for Chicken Smith has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Sea Glass Summer, by Michelle Houts/Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, (May 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763684433

Ages 5-8

A boy named Thomas explores the beach by his grandmother’s seaside cottage. Using his grandfather’s magnifying glass, he discovers the complex beauty in nature: grains of sand look as big as rocks, and clamshells have swirls of color. But the discovery of sea glass is what really fascinates Thomas. Learning how sea glass is made – a piece of glass, dropped into the sea, becomes worn smooth and cloudy over time – and that his grandfather said that “every piece of sea glass has a story all its own” fuels his imagination; he finds himself dreaming of ship christenings and ships caught in storms; stories that could give rise to the found glass on the beach. When he and his grandmother head back to the mainland, the magnifying glass shatters, and he tosses the glass into the sea. Years later, a girl named Annie discovers sea glass on the beach, and brings her discovery to her grandfather, an older man she calls Papaw Tom.

Sea Glass Summer is a moving inter-generational story that beautifully recreates the feel of summer: warm, lazy days on the beach; the smell of the sea air, the grains of sand, rough against your fingertips, the smooth sea glass in the palm of your hand. In between these cozy summer memories, there’s a story that reaches across decades, linking a grandfather and his granddaughter, in a story that stirs the imagination and tugs at the heartstrings. An author’s note notes that sea glass was more common in the days before recycling awareness.

I loved Sea Glass Summer. This one is a summer classic.

Sea Glass Summer has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

In Lucy’s Lab, science is everywhere!

Sky Pony has a new series for intermediate readers that incorporates a fun science component into each tale. Lucy’s Lab is a series about a second grader named Lucy, and she loves science! Her cousin and best friend, Cora, is in class with her, and is more of the purple and pink princess type, but she’s always up for a stint in Lucy’s Lab. Now, if only she could get that annoying classmate Stewart Swinefest, to behave himself…

Lucy’s Lab: Nuts About Science, by Michelle Houts/Illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel,
(Sept. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $13.99, ISBN: 978-1510710641
Recommended for readers 7-10

In Lucy’s first science adventure, Nuts About Science, we meet the science-loving second grader at the beginning of her school year. She likes her new teacher, Miss Flippo, and she really likes that there’s a science lab in her classroom! Miss Flippo even has lab coats and goggles for the students to wear in the lab! One thing doesn’t sit so well with Lucy this school year, though: the big oak tree outside her classroom is gone, and Lucy’s worried that the squirrels that lived there will have nowhere to go! She and her friends manage to find out what happened, and lobby the principal and the PTA for a new tree. In the meantime, Lucy turns an old playhouse her father built in the backyard into her very own lab!

 

Lucy’s Lab: Nuts About Science, by Michelle Houts/Illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel,
(Sept. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $13.99, ISBN: 978-1510710672
Recommended for readers 7-10

Lucy and her classmates learn about the states of matter in Solids, Liquids, Guess Who’s Got Gas, which may be the best Intermediate book title ever. Miss Flippo believes in science being fun, and teaches them about solids, liquids, and gases by using balloons, frozen water, and a school trip to the apple orchard! Kudos to author Michelle Houts for slipping the fourth state of matter – plasma – into the story, as well as its recent inclusion into science textbooks. Lucy discovers a new science hero in this story, and Stewart Swinefest gets some payback for being obnoxious.

The Lucy’s Lab series is easy reading, with bite-sized information slipped into the narrative. Lucy has her own lab time in each book, and we return to Room 2-C for adventures in the science lab during school hours; we also get interesting tidbits throughout each story, whether it’s about the origin of some last names, tree diseases, or the scientist who studied plasma. There’s always something interesting happening in Lucy’s world, and we’re invited to come along. Black and white illustrations keep the reader’s interest and keep the pace moving for readers transitioning from beginner chapter books to intermediate novels.

This is a nice series to give to your readers who like exploring the world around them. I’d display this with the Girls Who Code chapter books and Jon Scieszka’s Frank Einstein books to give kids a nice introduction to STEM fiction.